Magazine article Newsweek

Where Memory Endures; after 25 Years, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Casts a Long Shadow

Magazine article Newsweek

Where Memory Endures; after 25 Years, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Casts a Long Shadow

Article excerpt

Byline: Cathleen Mcguigan

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is so iconic, you tend to forget the political tempest that surrounded it more than 25 years ago. After the design--by a then-unknown Yale undergrad named Maya Lin--beat out 1,420 contenders in a blind competition, big shots such as Ross Perot, as well as 27 Republican congressmen, tried to block the starkly elegant plan. Critics claimed the gentle V where its two long walls met was a coded peace sign; what Lin called "a rift in the earth" one brigadier general termed "a scar of shame." Some vets hated it, too, so a conventional bronze statue of three soldiers and an American flag were installed nearby. But even from the start, the public seemed to embrace the memorial. Today it's the most-visited monument in Washington.

The stunning design is a testament to the principle that less is more: those two long walls of polished black granite, cut into the earth and engraved with the names of 58,249 servicemen and -women who died in the Vietnam War, are charged with emotion. The ground is always scattered with notes and flowers; visitors run their fingers over the names, staring at their own reflected faces.

This week the American Institute of Architects is honoring the Vietnam memorial with its Twenty-five Year Award, for a work that's stood the test of time for a quarter century. It's especially impressive when you consider that past winners include the Guggenheim Museum and Rockefeller Center--while the memorial, as an early critic put it, is "neither a building nor sculpture." Yet few public projects have had such a profound hold on our national consciousness, and it's cast a long shadow over the design of major memorials ever since. Lin created not just an object to revere but an evocative sense of place. You can see its influence in the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which opened in 2000. …

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